For years doctors, personal trainers, nutritionists, other health professionals, and even insurance companies have been using BMI (body mass index) to measure overall health. Most Americans have an idea of what their BMI is and whether they are deemed as “healthy” or “unhealthy” based on their BMI range. If you’re one of the lucky ones that does not know your BMI, let’s keep it that way!
What is BMI anyway? BMI is short for body mass index and is a mathematical calculation that takes your height and weight and spits out some seemingly arbitrary number. Those numbers are then used to class where your weight lies. When you think about how healthy you are, do you only think about your height and weight? What about gender, age, eating habits, activity level, muscle mass, bone density, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and even how you feel in your own body? The BMI calculation does not take any of those factors into account.
The BMI scale was never designed to be used on an individual level and is very inaccurate for measuring overall health. If you imagine a football player or body builder, they are likely to have large muscles, less body fat, and are in good physical shape. Yet, the BMI scale often classes them as “obese” and unhealthy. Obviously, not all of us are professional athletes with large muscles, but the BMI scale is inaccurate for us as well. We all know that everyone’s body is different in size, shape, abilities, and more. So why should we all have the exact same measure of health that only includes our height and weight?
Clearly, BMI needs to be removed from our measures of health. If you’re not convinced, let’s talk about a larger issue that BMI causes. BMI helps to support and validate our society’s infatuation with weight and body shaming. It’s easy for us to look at our weight and BMI to determine if we are a “better” or “healthier” person. BMI is often used to the opposite effect as well – to judge others that have a higher BMI. People living in larger bodies are often automatically seen as “unhealthy” simply because of their weight or BMI which needs to stop. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 47% of Americans classed as “overweight” based on BMI standards were deemed as perfectly healthy. The study used other health measures such as blood pressure, cholesterol, risk of diabetes, and more to determine their true health status.
Our cultural obsession with weight has steered us away from healthy habits that actually matter: healthy eating, activity, sleep, mental health, and more.
It’s time to stop using weight and BMI as a marker of health or to determine where we stand in society.
RanDee Anshutz is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Massage Therapist practicing in Bend, Oregon. As a Health at Every Size (HAES) provider she strives to help EVERYONE in EVERY BODY achieve optimal health.